Another commentary on the anti-Berlusconi’s Facebook groups quarrell

After the attack against Berlusconi several Facebook groups supported this insane action, while several others blame it. To this, Berlusconi’s political faction reacted in an hysterical way announcing legislative measures to prevent and block the “flourishing” of “hate speeches”.

As matter of fact, while in first instance the ministry of Home Affair announced some sort of “emergency legislation” to be quickly passed, the final choice has been to follow the standard – and quite longer – procedure. No public statements have been released to actually justify this shift, while a few background elements can help to understand why this happened.

Current Italian legislation consider as criminal offenses actions like: libeling, insulting, advocating or expressing support for a crime, inciting somebody to commit a crime, stalking, moral violence, illegal interference in somebody’s private life.
Public prosecutors have the power – on the snap of a finger – to seize and shut down whatever network resources located in Italy. Furthermore, a (questionable, admittedly) interpretation of “preemptive seizure” coming from the Criminal Court of Milan extended the legal concept of “seizure” up to allowing the release of an order against ISP to block the traffic directed toward a network resource located outside the Italian jurisdiction. The result is that to achieve what Berlusconi’s party aims, no new legislation is actually needed.

Nevertheless, at least to show some coherence, a draft law has been announced that should follow the path of previous right-wing made bills aimed at banning online anonymity.

The hidden – while clear – implication of this political strategy is to overrule the e-commerce Directive principle of non mandatory preemptive duty of control, thus forcing ISP and provider of Internet-based services (like Facebook or Youtube) to become automatically liable for the actions of their users.

An interview for Christian Science Monitor

Today I’ve been interviewed by Christian Science Monitor’s Italian correspondent about the possible crackdown on free-speech announced by the Ministry of Home Affair, Roberto Maroni (Lega Nord) after the attack against the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi has been heavily supported by some groups on Facebook.

Here is the full article:

Berlusconi aides blame Facebook, internet after attack

Aides to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Tuesday that social networking sites like Facebook helped inspire the man who attacked the Italian leader earlier this week, and proposed limiting free speach on the internet.

By Anna Momigliano Correspondent / December 15, 2009
Milan, Italy

The attack against Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is now expected to leave the hospital on Wednesday, may have a surprising result: stricter controls on freedom of speech on Facebook and Twitter in Italy.

Members of the prime minister’s governing coalition are blaming Sunday’s attack, which left Mr. Berlusconi with a broken nose and two fractured teeth, on social networking sites.

Despite the fact that Mr. Berlusconi appears in a forgiving mood — in a message posted on political party’s website Tuesday he wrote “everyone should stay calm and secure. Love always triumphs over envy and hate” — one of his ministers has other ideas.

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said he is considering tougher limits on freedom of expression and pledged to crack down on social networking sites that “instigate” violence against the prime minister.

Speaking to Parliament on Tuesday, Mr. Maroni blamed the attack on a “campaign of hatred” allegedly waged online against Berlusconi and said he feared an uncensored web might offer a platform for “a dangerous spiral of emulation.”

The internet is one of the few sources of news and information in Italy that aren’t subject to some form of control by Mr. Berlusconi. His family media empire owns one of the two major Italian news magazines, two daily newspapers, and three of the seven major TV channels. Three more of Italy’s major channels are run by his government.

While there are a number of independent newspapers, Berlusconi has sought to limit their room for maneuver, bringing lawsuits against newspapers that have reported on his extramarital affairs and allegations that he used call girls.

It’s not unusual for Italian politicians to blame violent crimes on the Internet, some say. “It has happened before. When something bad happens, the authorities’ first reaction is to tighten the grip on online censorship,” says Andrea Monti, a lawyer who also heads a group promoting freedom of expression on the web.

“That’s the most inefficient of reactions, for limiting freedom of speech harms honest citizens and makes fanatics happy,” says the lawyer. He compared the websites expressing their support to the attack on Berlusconi to those that deny the Holocaust: “No sane person can agree with them, but deniers love to be censured, they want to be turned into martyrs.”

Monti says censorship will make it more difficult for citizens to access the web, which he describes as a “powerful tool of democracy.”
Limits on free speech

Italy already has some of Europe’s strictest limits on free speech. There’s a law on the books, largely ignored, that requires most blogs to register as newspapers with the National Order of Journalists.

Another law, approved after 9/11, requires all internet cafes to examine their customers IDs and sets severe limits on the use of wireless connections.

“Honestly, I can’t immagine how Maroni can further reduce the freedom of expression online, given how bad the situation really is,” argues Monti.

Maroni announced he will have a draft proposal for new by Thursday, when the council of ministers is scheduled to meet. He refused to reveal any details ahead of the meeting. “It’s a delicate topic, concerning the freedom of speech on the web and [more generally] the freedom of expression in public,” he said.
Berlusconi’s recovery

Berlusconi was hit on Sunday evening, after a tense political rally in Milan. Massimo Tartaglia, a 42-year-old man with a psychiatric history, threw a replica of Milan’s main cathedral at Berlusconi’s face.

Berlusconi will be released from hospital on Wednesday, but his doctors have told him to take two weeks off before resuming his political activities.

Mr. Tartaglia reportedly sent a letter of apology to Berlusconi, describing his own actions as “superficial, cowardly, and ill-judged.” He also stated he acted alone and has no political affiliation.

Tartaglia may hope his public apology will save him jail time. Berlusconi pardoned a young man, Roberto Dal Bosco, who threw a metallic object at him in 2004. The prime minister was not harmed in the earlier attack.

Despite Tartaglia’s apology, several anti-Berlusconi groups gathered on Facbook and websites to turn him into a hero. One pro-Tartaglia site on Facebook attracted several thousand members.

By Tuesday afternoon, however, most of these groups were scrubbed from the site.

Original text available here.